This summer Microsoft has made it a priority to release and create more free games for its gold service. Ascend: Hand of Kul, while in beta, is their latest one of these. Developed by Signal Studios and published by Microsoft, Ascend is an online game in the similar vein of Diablo with an MMO feel.
You play as a Caos, a warrior giant who serves the gods. The mythology here is a bit murky, but part of it reminded me of Black and White. It’s a world where human beings exist, and it’s your job to capture altars and shrines to win them over as worshipers of your god.
To start the game, you create your character. The typical options for customizing their looks and equipment are here, but you also get to select the god you wish to serve. Choose between the darkness, void, and light, but remember, choose wisely. Depending on which one you pick, you’ll gain certain spells to start with and different character boosts / penalties.
The world you jump into is ruled by a creature called the Titan. It’s the big bad that you’ll eventually have to take down to appease the gods. I didn’t really understand why they couldn’t kill it themselves, but so it goes. Anyways, to do this you’ll have to defeat all four of his spawn first by navigating through their dominions, which mostly equates to dungeon diving.
The biggest question I’ve come across about this game is if it’s one of those free to play but pay to win games. See, the game has its own currency called souls. You spend them to unlock / upgrade spells, buy armor, weapons, runes, and boosts. Souls can be either bought, like other add-on content on Xbox Live, or they can be obtained by defeating enemies.
In the beginning, it does feel a bit like getting the amount of souls you need is too daunting a task, but the game scales quite nicely with your character level. It might take awhile, but it’s totally possible to get everything you want without spending a dime of your own money.
Now the multiplayer function of the game is a giant tease. As of now, there is no actual player vs player or co-op, which has confused a lot of people as they will often encounter other users, who appear to invade their world. This is where the name of the game becomes relevant.
When you reach certain levels, you will be given the option to ascend. This means your character and his legacy items will be immortalized as a computer controlled crusader — who will invade other players under your moniker while you’re on Netflix.
I don’t hate this function. In fact, I think it’s sort of cool. It reminded me of some arcade versions of Soul Calibur and Tekken, which made ghosts of you and allowed people to take them on. But trust me, I’m not up at four in the morning trying to take your alter.
Ascension, from a strategic perspective, offers very little other than the increase of your maximum level cap and the gaining of a crusade emblem. These emblems give you a tiny boost and are meant to make an impact after you’ve collected them like they were Pokemon.
The other faux multiplayer element is the population of its world with other players. You can only interact with each other on a minimal level as “ghosts.” You can basically see players as translucent figures color coded by their divine alignment, whom you can’t physically interact with. However, you can bless them with stat boosts or curse them by sending monsters into their world, and that’s it for the“multiplayer.” Ascend: Hand of Kul is very much an online single player game — which I do find really weird. But, to be fair, it is still in beta.
Graphically, the game is a bit dated. And I’m not a big fan of the rendering engine. A lack of quality lighting effects really makes my giant feel more like a normal sized character. And the world design didn’t help mitigate that, either. I felt more like a normal sized human trouncing through the Smurfs’ village than a giant trying to move around in a human infrastructure.
If you’re not into achievements and grinding for items, like Diablo, then there is little here for you. But for a free game, it’s definitely fun and better than games like Aegis Wing or Hexic Hd.